Two days in paradise – touring Brisbane's Moreton Island

Visit Brisbane producer Daniela Sunde-Brown headed out with Australian Sunset Safaris on a two-day adventure to the world’s third-largest sand island. 

From chasing starfish by day to stargazing by night, read about her experience on Moreton Island.

Rise and shine

Moreton Island MiCat

Mornings are not my strong suit – especially on a Sunday. Any other weekend you’d find me fast asleep, but today at 7am I’m standing outside Hotel Jen with a gathering of other bleary-eyed people all thinking about what they may have forgotten.

Sunscreen, tick. Bathers, tick. Towel, tick, Toothbrush, tick. Mosquito repellent … oh drats.

We board the big red bus and the music is pumping. Looking around, my co-workers and I are surrounded by young sun-kissed tourists with a sparkle in their eyes. 

At the Port of Brisbane MiCat staff play real-life Tetris using 4WDs as we get comfortable for the 75-minute journey across Moreton Bay. 

To The Desert!

Australian Sunset Safaris

The Desert may well have been the moon. Emerging from the seemingly endless coastal bushland, we’re confronted by the stark contrast of these giant bare dunes in the centre of the island. Next we’re confronted by how hard it is to climb said dunes.

Crossing the top of the main sand hill it feels like we’ll never actually reach our launch spot. Someone has to go first and our guide picks on the group of four French boys. Haha!

Oh darn, I’m next.

The sandboards themselves are essentially a rectangular piece of hardboard, waxed on the underside using a candle. I set mine down at the top and slide into position. Elbows in, knees together, and most importantly, hold the front of the board up. Drop it, and I’ll be enjoying a “Moreton Sand-wich” for lunch.

Time to explore the Tangalooma Wrecks

After a lunch of make-your-own wraps, it’s time to pull on the wetsuits and grab snorkel gear. The Tangalooma Wrecks were sunk in 1963 when a group of boat owners requested a man-made harbour. About 15 junk ships including old barges, dredges, flatboats and a whaling vessel were buried in a sandbank. Now the wrecks are a great place to see coral, fish and other marine life just off the shore. 

The first step is to swim across the deep channel separating the wrecks and the shoreline. Once at the wrecks, all fears of deep water subside and we can stand up on the sandbank.

Today's conditions are near-perfect and visibility is ace. The ships themselves make an amazing backdrop to see fish darting between patches of coral. In the middle of the wrecks is a fish haven where the tour guides pull out a bag of bread. We let the fish snatch it right out of our hands!

A unique way to kayak

Back on dry land, we shimmy out of the wetsuits, pair up and jump into the kayaks. Australian Sunset Safaris is the first operator to pioneer transparent kayaks in Queensland and around the wrecks. 

Two–by-two we launch our clear kayaks into the water and set out once more for the old ships. Kayaking is definitely more relaxing than snorkelling, as instead of focusing on not drowning one can simply float and admire the coral below. The kayaks seem to magnify the coral below too, bringing it all to life.

Settle in for the night… 

We wave farewell to our friends from the day (most were on the one-day tour) board the bus and head north on Moreton Island’s No.1 motorway – the beach. 

All is going well until it happened. We get bogged. Real bogged. Despite many attempts to get up and out, we are well stuck – our embarrassed guide admits it is only the third time in five years that he has needed to ask for help out. To be honest, I think it adds to our experience.

Luckily it’s only a 200m walk to our accommodation at Castaways, so we grab our bags and trek in. Castaways has a range of accommodation and we are staying in a few of the safari tents – hello glamping! After a salty, sandy day in the sun, boy am I glad to see a hot shower.

Despite feeling like we are a world away from our real lives in Brisbane, the reality is that when the sun sets in Queensland, it sets fast. Noticing that rosy glimmer in the sky, a colleague and I run back through the coastal scrub to the beach. Watching the sun set over the water is not a luxury afforded the eastern coast of Australia – but today we do it. The brilliant glowing sun drops right before our eyes in the time it takes to boil a kettle. Too quick, but unforgettable.

Sunset on Moreton Island

Back at the glamp, dinner is served at the local Castaways restaurant. Tonight it is homemade lasagne with salad and strawberry cheesecake. The delicious serving is massive, and there are no complaints!

Embracing the sea by night

We return to the Tangalooma Wrecks by night. Five of us huddle around the kayak trailer in the darkness – the moon lighting out way. 

By night, kayaking is a completely different experience. Sunset Safaris has had bright LED lights custom-built to fit the vessels – so bright that they light up the sea floor below. Bonus – fish are attracted to the lights and launch themselves at us! 

My initial fear of being out on open dark water by night is forgotten the second we spot turtles. One curious fellow pops up next to us to say hello. We follow him for a while as he dives down deep before coming up for air centimetres from where we are.

Back at Castaways, the massive day has tired us out, so instead of toasting marshmallows by the campfire as planned, we retire for some well-deserved sleep.

Day 2 with Australian Sunset Safaris

After breakfast (eggs benedict and a mushroom and tomato hash nonetheless) our tour guide Grant let us know the day’s plan. What happens on day two depends on how early you group agrees to get going. Regardless, day two is for exploring the natural wonders of Moreton Island.

Admire the island from up high

Five Hills Lookout at Moreton Island

First stop on our way towards North Point is the Five Hills Lookout. The lookout is only a five-minute walk off the road – uphill and on sand mind you. For very little pain, the rewarding views stretch from the east to west, to the lighthouse at the north and south towards the middle of Moreton Island. 

Immediately surrounding the Five Hills Lookout is what locals like to call the ‘bonsai garden’. With high winds often ripping through the area, no large trees grow here, the foliage is more varied as seeds are distributed differently and growth is stunted – nothing is taller than about one metre.

Champagne anyone?

Daniel at Cape Moreton

Champagne Pools, that is. On the western tip of the island lies a rocky outcrop fondly named the Champagne Pools for the fizzing effect created by waves crashing on the stone and bubbling across the rough surface. From here we get our true first view of the Cape Moreton Lighthouse, recognisable by its two red stripes.

Just around the corner from the pools is Honeymoon Bay, a petite and private half-moon shaped sandy beach hidden by soaring cliffs. Taking a cheesy tourist photo is necessary.

Visiting Queensland’s first lighthouse

At the northern tip of the island is Cape Moreton and its historic lighthouse. The 23m-high red striped structure was built in 1857 and is made of local sandstone. Fun fact – older than Queensland itself, the lighthouse was actually created by the New South Wales government before Queensland became a separate state in 1859.

Cape Moreton Lighthouse

The rocky outcrop that the lighthouse sits on is a great viewing point to spot dolphins surfing the waves, turtles in the shallows, sharks laying low, and humpback whales splashing past (June to November). At Cape Moreton, one of the caretaker buildings has recently been turned into an information centre filled with interesting facts and history about Moreton Island.

Moreton or a movie set?

We cross the island and the bus ride continues to the surf beaches on the eastern side of the island. Being a small and nimble group we’re able to move quicker and cover more ground. Guide Grant uses this opportunity to show us a few extra things on the island including a washed up whale’s skull, Harper’s Rock and Cape Cliff.

Harper's Rock at Moreton Island

Like stumbling upon the set of Star Wars, Grant led us to the top of Harper’s Rock. The golden sands subside to bright orange rock-like formations, loosely stuck together like clay. Here it feels as though at any second a UFO might land or the road runner from Looney Tunes will zip past at any moment.

Take a dip in Blue Lagoon

Soft pure white sand meets the cooling fresh waters of this giant natural tea tree lake – a great spot to cool off after a day in the sun. We’ve arrived at Blue Lagoon. The lake itself is immense in size, and we stick to shallows while trying to imagine how deep it is in the middle – or what lurks beneath. 

Discovering Brisbane’s wartime past

War bunkers on Moreton Island

A drive back through Middle Rd pops the bus out on the western side and we’ve got enough time to see the World War II bunkers at Cowan Cowan. Set on the beach where the sand meets the bush, two largely intact concrete gun emplacements now rest at a 45 degree angle and you can poke your heads inside the small windows to view a slice of the past.

Surprising to many, Moreton Island was one of Australia’s major coastal defence bases during the world wars. Once you realise its close proximity to the mouth of the Brisbane River it makes sense. 

It takes forever to reach the forts as there are about 100 starfish between us and the bunkers – and we needed photos of them all!

Homeward bound

Starfish at Moreton Island

We jump back in the bus and head south, the purr of the diesel engine buzzing along over the sound of waves crashing to one side. We wave goodbye to many more starfish on the shore and shake the sand from our shoes for what won’t be the last time before boarding the afternoon MiCat ferry back to Brisbane.

Goodbye Moreton Island, you won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Book your one-day or two-day tour to Moreton Island with Australian Sunset Safaris via the Visit Brisbane website or phone the official Visitor Information Centre on 07 3006 6290.

Visit Brisbane travelled as a guest of Australian Sunset Safaris.

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